By on December 21, 2011

Brethren, we are once again gathered together to mourn the passing of another automobile company. Saab was of that rare breed of car that always had a band of devoted, aye, fanatical followers. In her prime, Saab could not fail to ignite the after-burners of anyone with a predilection to genuine character, speed, innovation, intelligence, and even sexy good looks (at times). Not bad for a company that never once designed a clean-sheet new engine and borrowed more platforms than Heidi Klum. But when you’re small and from Sweden, resourcefulness is essential: Saab finagled an existence in this brutal industry far longer than might have been expected.  But now she joins an august group of other fallen automotive heroes in Valhalla: Borgward, Panhard, Tatra, Kaiser, Glas, TVR, Jowett, etc…better that then whoring herself to another rich benefactor. But Saab’s story is worth retelling.

Forget the “Born From Jets” tag line; it was propellers anyway. And in actuality, Saab was born out of necessity, as so much else at the end of the war. We built the factory, now what do we do? Do what everyone else was doing: build a car. And how? Easier said than done. Contrary to endless attempts to prove otherwise, there’s hardly anything in common between the two. So where to start?

How about with this? Saab wouldn’t be the only ones looking to DKW for inspiration. And what a brilliant car DKW’s F9 prototype was, especially in 1939. A highly aerodynamic body and a two stroke engine driving the front wheels. The car of the postwar future. What’s not to like?

Initially, the sixteen Saab aviation engineers (of which only two had a driver’s license) assigned to the task  came up with something a bit more radical and avaition-like, as in all the openings in the car being stressed members, like airplane hatches. Not practical. So they scoured junkyards, and bought some new cars, including a DKW. The more functional end result, the 92001, or Ursaab, certainly pays homage to the F9 as well as their relentless pursuit of an even lower coefficient of drag.

The prototype was powered by an actual DKW engine and transmission, a two-stroke twin producing 18 hp. With an (ac)claimed Cd of 0.30, the 92001 undoubtedly made the most of that modest power. Or at least looked like it. And rarely has an automobile company (save VW) had a more iconic birth-mobile.

And like the VW, it was hardly original. But what car is? Originality is largely overvalued anyway. As with any birth, what counts is  the harmonious convergence of genes. And although the Ursaab was more fetus than progeny, it embodied the qualities that would hence define (real) Saabs: feminine, creative, intelligent, feline, eccentric, distinctive, progressive.

No wonder Saabs came to be embraced by those attracted to its inherent qualities, to the extent of being stereotyped as a college professor’s car. As limited as any such generalization ever is, that expression did mean something more once than today. Or did it? Is the Prius a college professor’s car?

Maybe it’s easier to define Saab’s intrinsic personality by contrasting it to that other Swedish car company, Volvo. The two are almost perfect complements. Volvo dates back to 1927, and its cars have traditionally been, well, traditional. Firmly embraced by the more conservative set, there is a saying that captures its place in the Swedish mindset perfectly: Volvo, villa, vovve (Volvo, house, dog). No wonder Volvo came to be famous for their wagons, like the legendary Duett.

Volvo’s all-new car for the post war era, the PV444, may have adopted a bit of hump-backed aero-pretense, but it was fundamentally a brick compared to the Saab. And built like one too: tough, masculine, conventional in configuration and execution.  A solid and reliable burgher.

Of course, it was a bit different in the States, where Volvo was one of dozens of import brands, and also came to be associated with college professors as well as engineers and parents with kids in Waldorf schools. But that’s all relative; and even in the US, Saabs were always one or two steps to the quirky side of Volvo. And which company is still around, even if owned by the Chinese?

After a few years of refinement and the deft hand of the gifted industrial designer Sixten Sason, the Saab 92 entered production in 1949. The DKW engine gave way to Saab’s own interpretation of it: 746 cc, 25 hp, thermo-syphon cooling, and a three-speed transmission with column shift.  Top speed: 64 mph (105 kmh). Time to get there: indeterminate.

The nattering two-stroke spewed a plume of blue smoke on acceleration, and blubbered on over-run. A bit ironic then, that the stinky,smoky Saabs were so favored by the progressive set. But the idea of two stroke was enthralling to certain minds. Only seven moving engine parts! Just the thing to brag about over chianti while listening to a jazz combo. Smugness is born from (ram)jets: No moving parts at all!

But two-strokes are very receptive to tuning. By 1952, a Saab 92 (now with 35 hp) brought home the first of many victories at Monte Carlo, copping the Coupe des Dames there, with Greta Molander at the wheel. A delicate foreshadowing of greater things to come.

The skirts were really lifted for the Sonett I, Saabs first tentative foray into genuine sports cars. Developed in a barn by a few enthusiasts, the Sonett had a 57.5 hp version of Saab’s new three-cylinder two-stroke. Weighing some 1300 lbs, this was a brisk little barchetta good for 100 mph, nothing to sneeze at in 1955. Racing would have been its purpose in life, had the rules not suddenly changed. Although only a handful were built, it was not forgotten. How could it be?

The Saab was thoroughly re-engineered for 1955, now called 93. The new three-cylinder yielded 33 hp, still feeding through a three-speed, with over-run. The first Saab to be exported, it arrived in the US just as the great fifties import boom was really getting under way. Yes, these are what I used to see as a kid blowing smoke around the University of Iowa campus, confirming their stereotype.

And one of the kids in my grade school class rode in one of these. His Mom was at least as good looking as this one. Although the Type 95 had a perfectly functional rear-facing third seat despite its compact dimensions, I preferred to sit in the second seat, directly behind her. The back of her neck smelled much better than the exhaust sucked in from the open rear window.

The definitive first-generation Saab was the 96, built for some twenty years, until 1980. A more in-depth write-up can be found here, but  let’s just say Saab was doing a VW during all those years, with the biggest change coming in 1967, when impending emission regs killed the two-stroke once and for all. Ironic too, that an American-designed engine would be the only thing to fit under the hood in front of the axle line.

The little 60 degree V4 was originally intended for Ford’s VW fighter in the late fifties, the aborted Cardinal. The car and engine were shipped off to Cologne, Germany, where the V4 and its six cylinder offshoot powered millions of Euro-Fords, before finding its way back home into millions of Explorers and such. And of course Saab 96s, where it was embraced with welcome engine mounts. A number of other engines had been tried, but the Ford was right-sized and right-priced. Just not right-sounding, as it’s nigh-near impossible to make a V4 sound like its not missing a cylinder or two. But for the 96, it just was just another continuation of its eccentricities: from engine blubbering to engine stuttering.

Saab carved out an impressive corner in the world of racing by sticking mostly to rallying, if not all four wheels. The high-performance GT 850 Monte Carlo two-stroke, and the later V4s racked up repeat wins at Monte Carlo and elsewhere, especially in the hands of the legendary Erik Carlsson.

The Sonett re-emerged in 1966, this time as a coupe and production-ready, with the US as the prime intended market. Making room for the V4 only challenged its intrinsically compromised lines further. It was one of the most eccentric sports cars ever, at least from a mass-producer of automobiles. There were plenty of British limited-production plastic-bodied weirdos then, but who ever actually saw a Fairthorpe or Berkeley Sport? Sonetts, yes. Better to be inside it than the other way around.

The attempt to smooth out its bulbous nose on the Sonett III was somewhat successful. But with arrivals like the cheaper and infinitely more powerful and handsome Datsun 240Z, the Sonett’s few buyers were serious Saabistas, especially since it had all of 65 hp. A Karman Ghia without the Italian styling. But this was no damensportwagen; it was a gnarly little troll, and its buyers were certainly not needing for public expressions of their virility.

By the mid sixties, Saab was now twenty years old, and ready to make its mark in the automotive world. It was an ambitious act, and the most defining one. As well as the last truly all-new all-Saab. The 99 arrived in 1967, ready to take up battle with the likes of the small BMW, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and of course Volvo’s also-new 140 Series.

Despite reflecting a more rectilinear world-view of the times, the 99 still cut through the air with a very respectable Cd of 0.37. It was roomy, handled well, had fine brakes, was comfortable, offered excellent traction, and was powered by…well, nobody’s perfect (except BMW, of course).

The engineering firm Ricardo had assisted Saab in developing its own four stroke engine, but it was going to be too expensive to finalize and put into production. So Ricardo put Saab in touch with another client, Triumph, that was just about to put its own new SOHC “Slant Four” engine in production. Saab once again did the (seemingly) expedient thing, and had engines shipped from England. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that this didn’t work out so well. By 1972, Saab started building its own improved version of the engine, now known as the B engine.

As is fairly obvious, Saab 99 and 900 engines were mounted “backwards”, with the output and clutch at the front, then feeding power to the transaxle mounted underneath the engine, although with its own oil supply. Mustn’t be too conventional.

In 1974, Saab added a sloping rear hatchback to both its two and four door 99s, creating the combi coupé, or Wagon Back, in Americanese. This became a defining aspect to most Saabs hence, or it least it seems that way. And it was remarkably roomy back there, thanks to the low floor height. It was the closest Saab got to building an actual wagon in a long time. Meanwhile,Volvo was churning out wagons by the boatload.


During the seventies, when American cars lost their mojo, Saab’s was very well intact, and growing. The 99 started out reasonably powered by European standards of the time, but that was just a starting point. Increases in displacement, fuel injection, and the sporty EMS model countered the trend convincingly. But the real kicker was the 99 Turbo, which blew a fresh and stiff new breeze upon the automotive landscape. And made indelible impressions on those who ever got behind its wheel.

At a time when Detroit V8s were making as little as 110 hp, the two-liter turbo four packed all of 145 hp. Sounds ridiculous now, but in 1978, it was a revelation. Especially compared to the BMW 320i, which had all of 105 hp. It’s all relative, and the Saab Turbo helped spark the whole turbo revolution. Soon Dodge Caravans would be proudly sporting turbo badges. The Saab 99 Turbo was a prophet of the eighties, as malaise gave way to yuppiedom.

The short-nosed Turbo 99 had a brief life, and is hard to find in the wild anymore. Replaced in 1979 by the 900 series, which featured a longer sloping hood to help meet US front impact standards. The (original) 900 probably defines the “Classic” Saab better than any other. Certainly more so than the Vectra-based neo-900.

Convertibles, and higher performance models, along with an ever-greater refinement in technology, 16 valve heads, electronic engine controls, and minor body tweaks kept the 900 going all the way to 1993. A remarkable 25 year run for the definitive Saab.

Well before the 900’s protracted demise, Saab knew it had to be replaced. But the complexities and costs of developing a brand new car was too much, so Saab joined hands with Fiat on the Type Four platform, that would constitute the Saab 9000 of 1984, as well as the very similar Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, and the better disguised Alfa 164. A competent and roomy car, it was a bit more challenged in taking on the deeply entrenched and successful mid-sized premium cars like the Mercedes E-Series and BMW 5-Series. Buyers in this class were not so readily moved by the inherent advantages of fwd and a hatchback. A sedan version soon followed, but obviously the fwd was here to stay.

The usual progression of styling tweaks and performance updates tried to keep the 9000 relevant and attractive. The reality was that the 9000 was not a hit, and Saab was in a pickle. The 900 was aging quickly, and the 9000 was not producing the profits necessary to even contemplate successor cars for either of them. Saab’s ambitious push into the premium sector was stalled, and the nose was pointing earthward, precariously so. Time to bail out, or be bailed out. Where are the parachutes?

That GM would be the one to buy Saab was not a good omen. It was obviously a case of Jaguar envy, after Ford snapped up that equally desperate automaker. Undoubtedly, GM would have preferred BMW, but it kept saying nein danke! Everyone was getting into the Euro premium car game, and never being one to be left out, GM bit where it could. Who would have thought?

Thinking didn’t appear to be the primary factor; more like fear of getting left behind. That’s one of the most powerful decision drivers ever, usually for the worse. And how exactly was GM going to successfully manage another weak brand? At the end of the worst decade of its existence, when its own market share was imploding? In the usual way, by platform sharing.

Ok, but execution is the key, and Saab’s (unfortunately named) neo 900, riding on an Opel Vectra platform, was quickly seen for what it was: the future of Saab, for better and for worse. Saab now had access to capital, technology, and GM’s euro-V6 engine, but quality and genuine Saab-ness were sorely missing.

After five years of GM’s involvement and sanitizing, Saab finally showed an operating profit for 1995. It was not to be a regularly recurring feature. Not that it kept GM from buying the rest of the company in 2000; they were too committed by then not to. Welcome to the growing GM orphanage!

GM’s versatile 2900 platform was duly enlarged a bit to accommodate the long-overdue 9000 replacement, the awkwardly named 9-5. Like the 900, soon to be called 9-3, these cars had their virtues and vices, lovers and haters. You can duke that out yourselves, but what can’t be argued is that they failed to save the brand, in more ways than one. GM had the answer to that problem too: brand extension, the formula that also worked so well at Saturn.

Have we almost forgotten (or repressed) the Saaburu? Graft a Saab nose on the Subaru WRX, and it’s…just about the best Saab made in ages! Here was the true successor to the spirit of the real old Saab. Too bad Subaru had co-opted that decades earlier. Subaru probably mopped up more ex-Saab and Volvo drivers than any other brand.

And as appealing as the 9-2x might have been with GM’s crazy discount prices at the time, the ruse was seen for what it was: another pathetic joke in GM badge-engineering’s comedy club. Also known as the Improv.

That was just the warm-up act. The headliner was the 9-7. An Saab born from truck frames and V8s. Probably the best SUV of its kind GM ever built; what more can be said? Poor Saab, now a sex change operation in its old age. What next?

Nothing. Our Eulogy ends here, because if the true Saab was still alive to some extent then, the 9-7 was the final straw. Everything that happened since are the twitches and jerks of a zombie. And we’ve been well inundated with the antics surrounding it.

Many may well have enjoyed a genuinely positive experience with their 9-5s and 9-3s and such, but the level of Saab fanaticism in these recent months is remarkable. It seems to be a reflection of the times: I’m entitled to have Saab, because I’ve pinned my self-identification to it. I’m owed Saab.

I’d have been much happier to see Saab go to its inevitable grave twenty years ago, without the GM years and recent histrionics. Death is never a pretty thing, car companies included. We might have spent the past twenty years arm-chairing endless “what -ifs” and “could-have” scenarios. But its hard to imagine anyone coming up with a more bizarre outcome.

So will we spend the next twenty years debating alternative outcomes? Not me. Saab was an iffy proposition from the get-go, and there’s really no room left in the market for what Saab once embodied. Others have long plucked its remaining useful attributes and made them their own.

If there really was to be a true Saab born from airplanes today, it might look something more like this. And we all know how that turned out. Everything has a season, and Saab’s is well over.

 Thanks to Ingvar Hallstrom for the insights

 Paul Niedermeyer is the Editor of Curbside Classic, where every car has a story


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90 Comments on “Saab: The Eulogy...”

  • avatar

    I’ll miss SAAB. I prefer the original, pre-GM SAAB to still exist, but their price, value, reliability, performance, ownership-cost record was never up to snuff enough for me to risk my cash on one. It was a car better borrowed, or never owned after warranty. And to me, that is the SAAB story.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Thanks TTAC for allowing Paul to do the eulogy. I believe of anyone who has ever written for TTAC, Paul was the appropriate person to write it.

    • 0 avatar

      What a great bunch of words!
      This article was needed!
      SAAB is worthy of this work.

      SAABs were not perfect. They were never designed to be driven by folks interested in running Pookey to soccer, getting Mariposa to the American Girl shopping euphorium, or for Molly to pick up fresh brioche at Whole Foods. SAABs could to that, but that is NOT why SAABs were designed. It is not why they are beloved. How SAABs handled the daily routines of farting around town is not why they will be missed.

      They will be missed because they required more than a 3000 mile jaunt to Jiffy Lube. SAABs needed more than anything put out by Tokyo and most vehicles out of Detroit. SAABs needed you. Rarely do today’s brands ask from their drivers an actual relationship with their cars. Today’s cars don’t need you because they have been designed to be ignored by you, yet put out a few hundred thousand miles, and be sold off with a respectable resale price to another driver who will ignore the car. If you think a car’s only purpose is to drive from point A to point B, without it intruding into your life, then Tokyo, Detroit and most any other European brand can do that for you, and then disappear into the wallpaper.

      SAABs needed their drivers. SAABs needed mechanics.

      This shouldn’t be considered a flaw, anymore than having a favorite horse thinking it is a part of your family and needing love, daily care and vet visits. SAABs are auto pets. Ownership can be more than just holding a car title. Ownership can be more than just bragging about how your car doesn’t fail. Ownership can be more rewarding than tooling to the mall in an Accord, a Camry, or a Fusion. Cars can be more than our passive silent slaves.

      Cars used to mean more. Today they really don’t. Perhaps it is because a growing number of supposedly enlightened people tell us that using them is some kind of symbol of whatever-it-is-they-are-kvetching-about-this-week. College professors lecturing against cars because of sexisms, or poverty in Flambodia, or an ice cube melting in Dallas. Cars used to be considered more than wheels. They used to be considered the future. Car ownership used to be a positive statement in a future-focused society. Cars used to have fins, torpedos, jet hood ornaments, and cockpits. SAABs come from that era.

      It is a wonder SAAB survived this long. Twisting a SAAB into a boring people machine with hopes of churning profits into GM’s coffers was like trying to mass produce your favorite pair of flannel boxers. You wore those holes into them, you stretched them out so that they don’t yank at your hairy bits, they smell like you. There is a reason you sneak them out of the trash when your wife finds them in the laundry and continually throws them out. There is a reason SAABs are saved from junk yards. It is our imperfections that make us individuals which finds us comforts and love.

      Cry brothers and sisters! Today we mourn! We have reached a point where soul-less Toyotas, Fords and Nissans sit passively in our three car McMansion garages. Cry for a time when men were needed to tend to their family’s rides. Look back at today and recognize there was the time when there were brands of cars that needed your sweat, brawn and muscle, your patience, time and cash to stop them from piddling on your driveway. Cry for the death of another one of a man’s favorite responsibilities. Auto perfection is causing our hands to grow soft and our tools to collect dust. It is closing our garages with their smell of grease, Snap-On calendar girls and empty PBR cans and forcing us into sipping lattes in dealer showrooms where computers tell spotless auto specialists your Civic needs a new chip.

      Look upon a SAAB like you do an old Kentucky Derby winner and savor the relationship it offers you. That is true auto perfection!

      • 0 avatar

        VDude, I usually find your posts to be over the top, but this was very well said. I’ve owned many brands of cars, but the Saabs I’ve owned (six, including my current 9-5 Aero), feel like well-worn, familiar old blue jeans to me. Can’t explain it really. There are better cars out there, but I connect with Saabs in a way I don’t with any other.

        Paul, well done.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Your best comment yet. Bravo!

      • 0 avatar

        VDude, yours is the most amazing comment that I read anywhere. I can’t thank you enough.

        Paul, thanks for the great article!

  • avatar

    Great piece, Paul. And thanks for being mentioned and linked, I’m flattered.

  • avatar

    The cool thing about Saab (and I say this having owned two of them) is that they stayed a viable, independent company for as long as they did while only building for all intents and purposes two cars – the 96 (and the 95 Variant) and the 99 (which evolved ever so slightly into the 900). I think it’s fair to say that the 9000 was more mongrelized Alfa than Saab, and the GM years: well, the less said, the better.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t sell (some of) the GM-era cars short. The 9000 Aero, 9-3 Viggen and 9-5 were, and are, great cars. They were mongrels, sure, but all Saabs were to some extent. What’s important, in my mind anyway, is that these later cars still embodied the Saab ethos despite GMs involvment.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Yeah, as a 10-year owner of a 9-5 aero wagon, I second that. “Unique” is an over-used word, but the 9-5, despite a lot of GM/Opel DNA, was unique. That’s why I bought it.

        And I have to say, I have never driven a high pressure turbocharged car (250 hp from 2.2 liters) that had as smooth an integration of engine, turbo and autobox as this car. If you want to see how NOT to do it, drive an Acura RDX. Same engine displacement, less HP (240), same 5-speed autobox but with lots of lag/surge issues readily apparent when you try to accelerate smoothly from a dead stop.

      • 0 avatar

        Bruce, I agree. I own an ’04 9-5 Aero sedan and the drivetrain is fantastic. Never driven an RDX, but I have driven other “modern” turbo/auto cars that couldn’t carry the 9-5’s jockstrap.

      • 0 avatar

        If I could go back to 1990 or so and choose between my Saab 9000CD and my wife’s Alfa 164L (same platform) I’d choose the Alfa, and later did, picking up a 164S.

        When I wax nostalgic for Saab, it would be for my 1978 99EMS 3 door hatchback, one step below the Turbo. Bought it from Wigwam Saab, originally an Indian cycle dealer, fittingly enough. What a wonderful car. Too bad GM didn’t learn that having chair-like seats in a sedan/coupe is better than making people sit on the floor. That does not make me feel sportier. Best day in that car was when it was newish and at this time of year. My wife and I were headed ‘home’ (pre-kids home was where our parents lived). We had so many presents in the hatch that we had to take out the privacy panel. I’ve never gotten so many smiles while driving before or since. I also knew the instant I saw it that the center key placement was a good thing – key, parking brake,shifter, all right there. Plus my brother wears a scar to this day from an accident where as the middle front passenger, his knee rammed a traditionally positioned key during an accident.

        I’d love to have that car back.

  • avatar

    Wonderful article, Paul. Saab was a fixture in Europe and many a police force, including those that patrolled the Autobahn, could be seen driving their Saab sedans and Porsche pursuit vehicles at very high speeds.

    In the end Saab will be a fond memory, just like Studebaker was. And Kaiser, Henry J, Packard, Nash, Rambler, AMC, DeSoto, Plymouth etc. Maybe even a little like Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer of yore. Each had their own following. Each was missed, but not for long.

    • 0 avatar

      Hmmmm. I miss Pontiac and Saturn… They were just starting to turn out some very interesting vehicles when the axe fell. In my opinion, Saab should’ve been axed waaaaaay before either Pontiac or Saturn (especially Saturn) bit the bullet.

    • 0 avatar

      Hmmmm. I still miss Pontiac and Saturn… and will continue to do so. They were just starting to turn out some very interesting vehicles when the axe fell. In my opinion, Saab should’ve been axed waaaaaay before either Pontiac or Saturn (especially Saturn) bit the bullet.

      • 0 avatar

        ott, I know what you mean. One of my early cars was a ’57 Pontiac that I bought used in 1965. Have very fond memories of it. Another was a 1972 Olds Custom Cruiser and then later, a magnificent FWD 1978 Olds Toronado, both bought new.

        When I was in Europe I saw a lot of Saabs, but I ended up bringing back a new Volvo upon my return stateside. I actually sold that Volvo for more than I paid for it, and within a year of coming back from overseas. More demand for Volvo than for Saab, back then.

        Saab will be missed, no doubt, but their fan base wasn’t as big as that of Pontiac or Saturn. And there are many excellent replacements out there that have improved upon the Saab experience. Give it time. This, too, shall pass.

  • avatar

    I had to reset my password…. This just may set a comments record.

  • avatar

    Interestingly, for the Sonett I, they turned the three pot engine 180 degrees, it’s a front/mid engine front wheel drive. And if I’m not mistaken, GM “stole” one of the six remaining prototypes, and shipped it to the GM Heritage center, I don’t think they returned after selling Saab.

  • avatar

    No mention of Scania involvement?
    Also a Saab 2 stroke won its prod class at Bonneville this year and set a new record.

  • avatar

    I had a Saab 96 from about1968. Always regretted selling it. Loved that car.

  • avatar

    Coming out of university in 2002 I wanted a Saab. I even thought, at the time, that they were a used-value secret for me to keep to myself. Never did get one though.

    Fantastic article.

  • avatar

    The Ursaab is the most exciting 21st century car I’ve seen yet. Wait…you say it was built 65 years ago? Brilliant.

    It’s inspired to pair it with the dearly departed Aptera. Now there’s a tragedy, a long, dark story of a brilliant team brought down by sharks.

  • avatar

    I wonder where Saab would have gone without the General?

    Nobody in the enlisted ranks @ GM could think of a reason for buying it, that’s for sure.

    Some of the execs did like the trips to check out the Swedish Bikini Team.

    Reference for you youngsters:

  • avatar

    When an automotive brand begins is downward spiral, it seems that models are produced that don’t live up to the expectations created when the brand was in it’s glory years. It’s history’s way of warning us that the end is near, though we may not choose to see it at the time. In any case, when the end finally comes, there is sadness and frustration over the loss of a brand that may have actually become a part of our own identity. The demise of a brand is filled with a litany of heroes and villains who all played their role in the drama. Quite often, the heroes are seen in a very different light as time goes on and emotions return to normal. The clarity that Saab fans now seek will come as the history of the brand is written by those more knowledgeable than I. For those who can, restoring, maintaining, and driving Saabs can be a means of continuing the relationship with the brand. For all of us who follow the industry, the end of a brand should be met with a moment of respectful silence, since a small part of our own lifetime has come to an end. Granted, for those who don’t follow the industry, this ending is a non-event. However, in this case, the end coming during the holiday season, causes a degree of apprehension that we can all understand. As long as there are fans, a brand continues to live. May Saabs continue their journey down the highways of the world for many decades to come.

  • avatar

    Nice write-up. Quite a few cars there I didn’t know about, I’ve never been a huge Saab fan, it was nice to see it’s history.

  • avatar

    “Saabs: feminine, creative, intelligent, feline, eccentric, distinctive, progressive” With the exception of feline, this describes my ideal romantic partner. Now I know why I like these outdated, compromised, silly little hatchbacks so much.

    For me, SAAB died with the 900. If we look at the actual goals of a car company (to sell cars and make money) SAAB could almost be considered a failure from the start. There was no mass-market appeal with any of their models, they happened to get lucky and ride a wave of “professorial” marketing from the 60’s to the 90’s, when the lord of corporate stupidity, GM, bought them out and thoroughly trashed what little brand they had left. TVR, Studebaker, and the rest had something special. SAAB was just plain weird.

    That being said, the Ursaab is a stunning beauty, and Mr. Carlsson’s drunken forays were quite impressive. SAAB’s will always have a dedicated appreciation from the gearhead community (myself included) but they just didn’t have what it takes to succeed in the real world of big sales and profit. It’s a great writeup to the end of SAAB, but you forgot one thing. What is a true SAAB owner really like? Well, we caught one on video.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      I have a feeling that the tach isn’t the only aftermarket gauge.

      Seriously though, how did 2-stroke automobiles ever gain market acceptance? In a Volvo PV544 of the same era with a B18 1.8 liter pushrod four, all you’d have to to is turn the key and drive the thing off, just like in a domestic car of the same era. Except with 4 on the floor and better handling.

  • avatar

    crinklesmith: Excellent. A two-stroke never fails to tingle a certain nerve. I guess we either have it or we don’t.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Aaaaahhhh… memories of one of my favorite marques. Let’s see here.

    I remember buying a 4 door Saab 900 with 81k miles for only $400 at a Carmax sale. It ran in fine. But back in the 2004 / 2005 time period these old Saabs were just about the most unloved thing in the marketplace. A lumpy four door design. Power sucking 3-speed automatic with high shift points. Interior materials that seemed to be a throwback to the late 70’s and early 80’s. Took me quite a while to sell it.

    The ‘selling’ issue is true for almost all Saabs. Unless we’re talking about a new release or special edition, Saabs have always tended to sit for a while and get ignored.

    A few examples.

    I once had a wonderful 1996 Saab 900 that was built in late 1995 and went unsold for all of 1996. Finally it got sold in late 1997. A stick with leather seats… but base otherwise. I think I bought it for all of $1300 back in 2005. Drove it nearly six months before selling it for $2995 to a guy who wanted to deliver pizzas with the thing.

    About a year later… the car had become a mechanical catastrophe for the poor fellow. He tried to just keep it maintained like an old Toyota and wound up with a bowed out suspension along with a clutch that could only get into three gears.

    I bought and sold about 15 to 20 Saabs over the years. Lots of 900’s, A few 9-5’s. One or two 9-3’s. Even a couple 9000’s.

    From a pure design standpoint the 900 Turbo Convertible I bought was the absolute best of them. This is pretty much the only Saab I regret selling.

    I enjoyed the rest of them for what they were. But the marketplace had moved on way back in 1993 and North America is simply the wrong place for luxury hatchbacks and ‘premium’ cars that are left hanging on the rotting vines of decade old underpinnings. Time and Saab’s competition have moved forward (in most cases).

    Rest in peace Saab. The Saabists will always carry your eternal torch. But the rest of us will simply miss your potential.

  • avatar

    I will miss Mercury more than I miss Saab.

  • avatar

    A reasonably well done run through the history of Saab. Thank you Paul. Having owned a number of Saabs from ’69 to ’08, a couple comments:

    I think you are being rather less than kind to the GM era. The NG900 was a bit of a rush job, but they actually are pretty decent cars. The single biggest thing that GM taught Saab was, believe it or not, quality control! The cars post GM were soooo much better than what came before in this regard. We had several new C900s and 9000s in the family, none of them were particularly wonderful relibility-wise from new. Sorted out under warranty and they were fine though. The 9-5 was a genuinely competitive car when it debuted in ’98 (Europe). It compared VERY well to the E34 BMW 5-series, being larger and more fuel efficient. It was certainly a MUCH nicer car than the Volvo 850/S70 or forthcoming S80 at that time. The problem, of course, was that in typical GM fashion it was left to rot for 12 years, by which time it was utterly uncompetitive in its segment. Ditto the ’03 9-3, though at least that got a successful refresh in ’07-08. As opposed to the desecration of the 9-5 in ’06.

    But ultimately, I think we all tend to view the old cars through rose-colored glasses. The classic 900 certainly has bags of character, but having owned several of them and several of the post GM cars, the newer cars are better in every way.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t really disagree with you. First of all, I’m not qualified to say much about the GM-Saabs; I simply had so little direct experience with them. Which is why I hedged myself a bit when it came to the actual cars.

      That’s the challenge of writing such an article, and which is why I stuck more to the big-picture issues of the GM era. They may well have been decent cars, but I couldn’t help but feel that they were also a holding pattern at best, and not really a viable way forward for Saab.

      Regarding quality: you may have a valid point, but also keep in mind that the general levels of quality everywhere were going up during this period. Comparing almost any car from the 1980s to ten or twenty years later is commonly an apples to oranges scenario.

      And there’s also the issue of how quality is defined. For some, it’s the feel of the materials and such; for others it’s more of a reliability issue. The GM Saabs may well have been more “reliable”, but the subjective feel may not measure up in other ways.

      Yes, almost all new cars are better. Which essentially confirms why Saab died: how to compete in a world where the expectations standards are set by Toyota/Lexus?

      • 0 avatar

        In effect I agree with you 100%. Until the NG9-5 and 9-4X came out, Saab was effectively still selling cars from 10-15 years ago. So while in a “big picture” sense, the old 9-5 and the 9-3 are excellent cars, they are not competitive with other cars at thier MSRP level. Unfortunately, that is the road to ruin. But they were HUGE steps forward from the models that immediately preceeded them, and that was THANKS to GM, not despite GM.

        Saabs problem since day 1 was that they never had enough money to develop new models in a timely manner – even looking back at the salad days of the classic 900, in the model run of that car, ’79-93, BMW had THREE generations of 3-series, e21, e30, and e36. Saab just kept plugging along with the same old car. Improved, sure, but even in ’79 it was just an evolution of a car that debuted in the ’60s!

        As to the subjective feel, I think that is well and truly overblown. No, a ’94 900 did not feel like a ’93 900. But the ’93 900 was JUST as much a dinosaur by then as the ’09 9-5 was in 2010! I had a ’95 900SET at the same time as a ’92 900T Convertible – the ’95 was an excellent daily driver, the ’92 was a charming antique. The ’95 was simply the better car in every possible way. Not evolutionary, revolutionary.

        One of the defining characteristics of the Saab fan for the past 40 years is how much they have hated change. All the same doom and gloom was said about the 99 vs. the 96, and the 900 vs. the 99. And probably the V4 96 vs. the 2-stroke, though that was before my time.

    • 0 avatar

      The 9-5 was a genuinely competitive car when it debuted in ’98 (Europe). It compared VERY well to the E34 BMW 5-series, being larger and more fuel efficient.

      See, that’s the problem – it was competitive with E34 BMW, not E39 that come out in 1995 (in Europe).

  • avatar

    A nice piece, thanks! To me Saab died when they quit making hatchbacks. In every possible way it was time to retire the brand. But count me among the many with fond memories.

    I had a 1988 900 Turbo when I was 22. I came to it from a 1981 Pontiac Parisienne, a stripped 1984 Bronco II, and a tired 1981 Datsun 210. To an unworldly kid who worshiped imported sports cars, those were unspeakable horrors. So the optioned-up Saab 900 Turbo that came to me cheaply, with 127,000 miles, was a revelation. Never mind that it was coming to pieces in a graceless, very unsportsmanlike way. When it ran, there was nothing quite like it. It set me on the path to automobile snobbery. I didn’t keep it long, of course; I think it cost well over $3/mile during my ownership. A number of local mechanics refused to service it at any price. But I loved the balance, the whistle-and-kick of the turbo, the highway manners, and the seats. I loved the old-fashioned rain gutters for kayak racks, and the voluminous cargo hold.

    It’s vaguely possible that if Saab had tended to the terrible electrics and transmissions and other critical failures, and clung to the form-and-function design brief that peaked with the 1980s 900 series, they might have eked out a living. But there’s no eking in the car manufacturing world, especially a recessionary one.

    Still, once ten years of litigation have wound down, I’ll bet the badge is revived and stuck on a freshly idiosyncratic car. There will be a lot of us for whom the mechanical pain will have faded and only happy memories remain.

  • avatar

    SAAB *was* awesome. But SAAB died when the 900 NG came out in 1994. Not only was it smaller than the outgoing NG, but it looked like an econobox compared to the exotic 99/900.

    Heck, I thought the 900 NG looked like the contemporary Nissan Sentra/nx2000ac from the same era:

  • avatar

    Great article.

    Anyone thinking of picking up a un-warranteed new one? Cant imagine the discounts that will be required. But parts, where will you get parts?

  • avatar
    bill h.

    Many thanks for a nice writeup, Mr. N.

    We are looking to hold onto our current fleet of three (2002, 2004 and 2010 9-3s and 9-5) for the parts-obtainable, foreseeable future, even at the rate of 15-20k miles being piled up on each one per year. And unlike the Received Wisdom of those who have never owned one, we have had remarkably little trouble with them across 25 years, going back to our first 900.

    BTW, something that perhaps does not stand out in the article–the UrSaab still exists, does it not? And has even been kept in running condition by Saab all these decades.

  • avatar

    This is a great write-up Paul. The best thing I’ve read about Saab on this site.

    My own experience with Saab involves owning several c900s in college in the early aughts. I loved each one of them – the finicky base ’86 900, the ’88 900 I drove across country and back with 200k miles on it, and my ’89 900 SPG.

    I owned a few 9-3’s which were pretty good cars, but ultimately ended up with a bunch of Volvos. I now own an 1800ES, a 240 and an 850 turbo wagon. I’m considering trading the ’82 242 for a 900. I really miss having one.

    I remember the moment I fell in love with the 900. I was no older than 8, and a family friend had a dark blue 900 4-door. I remember she accidentally stalled it out in front of our house. At that moment, I thought, “what a beautiful car”, and since that moment was completely smitten.

    I’ll miss the brand. I don’t usually get sentimental about anything corporate. It’s been a while since I’ve owned a Saab, but I’ve been watching the story unfold. And I’ve read this site and cringed at the callous indifference. I’m really glad you were the one to write the eulogy.

    I wish things could have turned out differently, but I realize the limitations Saab had.

  • avatar

    Great eulogy Paul. I’ve owned a ton of cars over the years, but never a SAAB–probably because they’ve always been high-endish, and never a Consumer Reports favorite. But, if you love cars, you feel sad anytime a brand disappears.

  • avatar

    If only they had become the luxury division of Subaru…

    • 0 avatar

      As if Subaru needed the headache. Subaru unfortunately is one of those companies that needs a sugar daddy to stay afloat, 1st GM and now Toyota. Buying Saab would have been like those 2nd tier players merging in the US in the 1950s.

      The 9-2x probably was the best “Saab” ever built.

  • avatar

    Nice post.

    I Love(d) the 900!

    Shame what happened to them.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    My first car was a hand me down ’83 900S 5-speed from my parents.

    The old Saab had been in the family since I was in elementary school and apart from some minor electrical problems, drove pretty well and held up to plenty of teenage abuse at my hands. The delicate 5-speed gearbox in the 900 my have been on its last legs when we sold it, because it’d occasionally pop out of gear with 100k miles or so.

    I liked the old Saab 900. It had character. The 9000 that followed felt like just another Eurosedan with subpar reliability. Case in point: I rode in a 9000 that belonged to a gal I knew in college that decided to drop all of its power windows during a winter rainstorm in Seattle. Not cool.

    I never drove or rode in any of the GM-based Saabs. From Internet and magazine reviews, it doesn’t sound like I missed much.

    I did get to drive a classic 900 convertible with the 16v turbo engine and 5-speed, which was kind of unrefined and had lots of body flex, but sounded great when being driven hard. Even got a ride in a 99 Turbo with a swapped 16v turbo engine from a later 900 with the boost cranked way up. Scary fast.

    Like many former Saab owners, it seems, I went to a Subaru, and then unlike many Saab owners, I ended up with a BMW 3 Series.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I’ll miss Saab, if only for the nostalgia.

    Growing up, Dad had a sun-bleached blue 1979 5-door 900 turbo. He loved that car. And I could always hear it coming up the street with that distinctive turbo whine. Unique car, I only ever saw one other 5-door from that vintage.

    A good friend had a 1987 900 3-door about 5 years ago. Another beautiful car, but an endless source of misery at that age. Didn’t keep it long.

    Not much compelling from Saab since the very early 90s, although I think the last 9-3 wagon is one of the sharpest looking cars I have seen. I know the powertrains & chassis don’t compete well with Bimmer 3 series and Audi A4s, but I could probably overlook that based on the gorgeous styling alone. Probably a great used bargain now if you are not worried about the difficulty in keeping it running in the future.

  • avatar

    At this point in my life, I probably can’t remember all the cars I’ve owned. A few stand out.

    The Corvair that almost killed me and friends on I-70 in Ohio.

    The Land Rovers.

    The MB 220SEb

    And the ’78 SAAB 99 that gave me: nine years of great driving–and brutal highway noise levels (4 sp tranny); never enough heat (and no one could figure that out (probably something blocking a system door);

    endless niggling problems.

    There was never a day when I could say, “At last, nothing is wrong with this car.” But, she had brilliant handling and great snow traction.

    After every other auto maker stole the singular features that made SAAB great, SAAB was doomed.

    There hasn’t been such a breakthrough car since.

    In terms of innovation and thought-shifting an entire industry, I can think of only a few.

    Ford (Model T,

    Citroen (DS-19)

    and SAAB.

    As I was driving my cranky ’78 SAAB to the Subaru dealer for an ’87 wagon, the old girl protested finally too much. She set her own dashboard on fire.

  • avatar

    Great eulogy. I will forever miss the 900, wish I had a chance to drive one for an extended time. I still remember the kick I got in a 9000 when at 3500 rpm the turbos spooled up the power. Also agree that the death would have been much more dignified before the GM’s series of botox injections and plastic surgeries. Kind of like that blonde bobmshell who turned into slurrying drugged out mess before overdozing and passing.

  • avatar

    Growing up I always wanted a Saab 99EMS. When I finally reached the point where I could afford one GM took all the Saab-iness out of them.

  • avatar

    Nice article guys!

    I traded a C5 Corvette on a 9-5 Aero back in 2000. Liked the sedan so much I bought the wagon version. Then went to AMG and back to and find myself 12 years later in a 2000 9-5 5-speed getting 36-39 mpg on the 120 mile daily commute and loving it!

    I can haul four 225mm width tires in the trunk and the dog loves the heated back seat. A small two drawer tool box maintains the car with about half dozen vendors to choose from for replacement of consumables.

    The 10 year old Saab might be considered the perfect car right now aided by GM’s swath in the auto industry.

  • avatar

    Back in 1992 I really wanted a Saab 900 Turbo. An older friend drove an ’87 900 Turbo and I loved that car. That’s the last Saab that I’ve yearned for, the 1994 900 was a huge step down.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the long-run perspective on Saab, Paul; it puts lots of enthusiastic and disappointed moments in context. My first Saab, an early ’90s 900, had loads of personality, and was flexible enough, fun enough, and mostly reliable enough. It inspired love. My second Saab, a GM era 9-3, captured the problem most others have described here: on paper it was better in every way, but it inspired nothing in me, and killed my brand loyalty.

  • avatar

    Isn’t there a guy out there with 3 million miles on his 1966 Saab….oh wait….that’s a Volvo. Enough said.

    It’s a miracle a country with 8M people can support one auto manufacturer, let alone 2. This has been a long loooong time coming. Volvo has ALWAYS been the better Swedish automaker.

  • avatar

    I dont think the eulogy should have ended where it did. Personally, I feel that Saab was close to a resurgence before the end of Old GM. The new 9-5 is a beautiful car and the 9-7 is…..ah….competitive. A new 9-3 could have put the company back in the black and back on the map. Essentially, the company was cut off from the mothership just as the Corporate overlords in Detroit had made a determination that Saab’s models should not be left on the vine to wither any longer. Shame. My first car was a Volvo 240 Turbo Wagon. I have very fond memories of it and ever since have had a soft spot in my heart for Sweedish cars though I have never since owned another. Still, there is something remarkable about Saabs and Sweedish cars in general. In a business largely dominated by the pursuit of volume and governed by mass appeal to the lowest common denominator, Saabs had intangible and inherent qualities that made them….different. Fare thee well Saab

  • avatar

    Paul, great writing, and thanks. I am an unapologetic Saabophile and am sad to see the company fade away, though it was certainly overdue.

    When I saw your article, one area that I thought you might cover was Saab’s impressive run of innovation. Despite it’s small size and dependence on platform and component sharing, Saab has made some important breakthroughs. To wit:

    1958: Safety Belts

    Saab was the first car manufacturer to introduce seat belts as standard. From the very start, Saab played an active part in the development of safety components – in-house as well as in co-operation with subcontractors.

    1963: Dual Brake Circuits

    The diagonally split brake system reduced the risk of losing brake power in the event of damage to the system

    1969: Headlamps switch off with ignition – Driving with headlamps in the daylight is a documented safety enhancement. The automatic on/off switch eliminated the risk of discharging the battery by accident.

    1969: Ignition lock between front seats – The traditional position of the ignition key caused severe knee injuries, even in minor accidents. Placing the ignition lock between the front seats gets it out of the way. Furthermore, the position is logical, adjacent to the seat belt lock, handbrake and gear lever.

    1970: Headlights wash and wipe – Rain and dirt can remove 90% of headlamp illumination. Saab’s simple yet unique solution was to create a wash and wipe system, which later became a legal requirement in many countries.

    1971: Energy Absorbing Bumpers – With conventional bumpers, even a minor collision could result in costly repairs. With energy absorbing bumpers, collisions at speeds up to 8km/h require no repairs at all.

    1971: Electrically Heated Seats: A major comfort enhancement. Originally it was developed from a health perspective; sitting in a cold seat is not good for anyone. Today, this Saab innovation is a part of the standard equipment in almost any car.

    1972: Side Impact Protection – Saab was the first car manufacturer to introduce reinforcement members in the doors, in order to provide side impact protection. Surprisingly enough, the Saab was for many years the only car that offered this added safety.

    1976: 3-Way Catalyst Converter – To comply with rigorous emissions regulations, Saab was one of the first car manufacturers to use a Lambda sensor controlled 3-way catalyst converter. Today, this is naturally a standard feature on all Saab cars and continued development work is being carried out to maintain and improve our position in this field.

    1976: Turbocharging – Saab was the first car manufacturer to develop a turbo engine with the reliability and durability that is required for everyday use. Turbocharging provides increased output and huge torque at low and medium revs, without the usual increase in weight, cost and fuel consumption.

    1978: Collapsible Steering Column – With Saab’s design, the steering column does not penetrate the cabin in a head-on collision. Compared with other similar designs this has the advantage of not affecting the driver’s ability to steer the car even after an accident

    1978: Cabin Air Filter – Allergies are an increasing problem. The quality of the air is very important for people who suffer from hay fever or other allergies. Our electrostatic cabin air filter removes pollen and other particles, down to a size of 0.004mm from the incoming air.

    1980: APC – Growing concern for the environment and reduced emissions led to the development of APC, Automatic Performance Control. APC enables the engine to run on fuels with a lower octane rating, with no loss of efficiency and durability. This is achieved using combustion process monitoring to control the turbocharger.

    1981: Split-field Side Mirror – This Saab innovation eliminates the blind spots when looking to the rear. Simple, inexpensive and subsequently standard de facto.

    1982: Asbestos-free Brake Pads – Saab was probably the first car manufacturer to take advantage of the new materials to replace asbestos.

    1985: Direct Ignition – By the direct ignition system, Saab eliminated the ignition cables and distributor. Each spark plug has a separate coil which produces a firing spark voltage of 40,000 volts. The result is improved combustion and better cold-starting performance.

    1991: Saab Trionic – Saab Trionic was developed in-house and is still one of the world’s most advanced systems for engine management. It measures all the parameters which play a significant part in the combustion process. The data is used for real-time control of turbocharging, fuel injection and ignition. The system also includes ionisation measurement inside the cylinders while the engine is running.

    1991: Light Pressure Turbo – With the light pressure turbo, Saab has introduced turbo technology for standard cars with a less pronounced performance profile. Light pressure turbo is used to optimise driving characteristics and overtaking performance.

    1991: CFC Free Air Conditioning – By tradition, the coolants used in air conditioning systems were of the CFC type – efficient but with a documented harmful effect on the atmosphere. In the early 90′s alternatives became available and Saab was one of the first to introduce this as standard.

    1993: Saab Safeseat – The Saab Safeseat was introduced as a safety design philosophy. The aim is to ensure that all the interior safety features interact correctly and provide maximum protection.

    1993: Night Panel – This function blacks out the instrument panel, apart from the speedometer. This reduces the risk of distraction while driving at night. All the systems still work in the background and the appropriate guage or lamp will light up when the driver’s attention is required. A good example of our aircraft heritage.

    1995: Ecopower – Saab’s engine development does not simply focus on performance. Power should be instantly available but not at the expense of economy and environmental concern. Ecopower is the collective name for our efforts in this field. Turbo, ignition, engine management and catalytic converters are not treated as separate units, but are optimised to create a harmonious power source.

    1996: Saab Active Head Restraint (SAHR) – The number of whiplash injuries would decrease dramatically if all cars had head restraints that were shaped and correctly positioned. That is why Saab has developed the Active Head Restraint. It automatically takes up the correct position in a rear-end impact and controls the movement of the head and vertebrae.

    1997: Electronic Brake Force Distribution – To optimise the effect of the brakes, this function distributes the correct amount of the force to the front and rear axle respectively. It is sensitive to the load distribution in the car and, unlike a traditional reduction valve, it does not reduce the total amount of available braking power.

    1997: Ventilated Seats – Saab 9-5 is the first car with ventilated seats. As a compliment to air conditioning this provides an outstanding level of comfort and helps the driver to stay fit and alert.

    1997: Comsense – Saab introduced a system that reduces the risk of distraction by briefly delaying incoming phone calls and lower priority alerts when the brakes or turn indicators are activated. This helps the driver to stay focused, for example when turning, overtaking or approaching a crossing.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Great article, Paul. Also thanks to TTAC for linking to the apparently Brit-sourced analysis of the reasons for Saab’s failure.

  • avatar

    Good piece, thank you.

    A few years ago, I had the great fortune to sit in and touch a lot of the cars in the Saab Bildmuseum in Trollhattan, including UrSaab. Most visitors are only allowed to look, but the group I was with was allowed to climb all over the exhibits.

    What will happen to the museum and the cars in it?

    There are a lot of historic cars there, including The Monster, a 93 with two engines. Surely these cars are worth saving?

  • avatar

    Having owned an 86 900 SPG and a 96 900 turbo it is sad to read this. But in the true sense of a funeral…I will remember the Saabs I had in happier times…

    I remember the ignition in the middle. And that the lock stopped working because of crap falling down inside it. So that when I lost my keys I could just start the car with a quarter.

    I remember that time I fit a queen size futon, the wooden bed frame in pieces, an air conditioner, and my girlfriend and her tree she just bought at home depot. And still closed the hatch!

    I remember a drive to New Orleans…watching the displayed L/100km and how I managed to get 6.9L/100km over the 2000km trip. (I haven’t had a car that frugal yet that fun since)

    I remember being approached by people at the gas station when I opened the hood to “push the turbo gage vacuum hose back on” because the hood opened to the front and they had to come look.

  • avatar

    A very well done retrospective. I think that you hit on a key – Saab was good at something that became less and less relevant as time went by and the world got richer.

    I (very) briefly fell under the thrall of Saab when shopping for my first new car in 1985. I was fresh out of law school and in my brief yuppie phase. I wanted something unique and of high quality. Nothing ordinary for me, no sir.

    I drove a 900 Turbo and was smitten. I believe that this was the first Turbo of any kind that I drove. I was drawn in by some of the car’s unique features – I really liked the console-mounted key and the fact that Saab did not use red instrument lighting and told you why – that all research indicated that green was more visible at night.

    Alas, it was a bit out of my price range, and I eventually settled on a black VW GTI. But I have kept a soft spot in my heart for the 900 Turbo, especially the ones with those cool 3 spoke wheels.

    I did not have all of the information at the time, but I knew that the 9000 was somehow more vanilla. And once GM got involved, I knew that things had gone horribly wrong when there was a Saab Trailblazer – Oops – I mean 9-7.

    Even though I never owned one, I will miss Saab, just like I miss Studebaker and AMC. It had to happen, of course. There have been too many makers and too much capacity and someone had to go. But they will be missed.

  • avatar

    I am not self-labeled a Disgruntled Old Coot for no reasons.

    I do not live “for” my shanty; it exists for me.

    The same for the furnishings within my shanty.

    The same for ALL my possessions and neither do they exist to be used to impress others.

    The holds true for my conveyances.

    They SERVE me. No one else and they have never been intended to convey a “message.”

    The same for humans.

    “In the day” I could have paraded the finest-looking gals in the college.

    Yep… the finest of the fine.

    Elevens on the 1-10 scale.

    No brag; just fact.

    But, though I associated those gals I never parades them, made it obvious to all they desired me.

    All I have “owned” or associated with was NEVER used to “show off” or portray an image, whatever.

    Reading some of the above opinions, statements, etc. about Saab and other vehicle makes led to my writing this comment.

    Just an Old Coot Opinion that can be interpreted as desired.

    Your opinion about my opinion is as valuable as mine.

    Off the weeds passing as a lawn ye reprobates.

  • avatar

    I almost bought a Saab 900 back in 1987 but ended up with a Scirocco instead. I appreciated Saab’s rational but different solutions and its history of rallying hoonage. The reskinned Opels of the GM era seemed sadly diminished next to a two-stroke 96 or an early 900 turbo. The world of cars will be a beiger place without Saab.

  • avatar

    Very nice article. I appreciate the depth and breadth of your knowledge. Thanks.

  • avatar

    Saabs were very common when I was growing up in Connecticut in the 60s. I had a summer job at the local dealer. The HQ in those days was in New Haven, and I frequently had to drive there for parts. Saab had a 2-stroke engine exchange program. Those engines had a life span of like 50K max if they had oil-injection (it was an option.) Even less if the owners mixed the oil in at each fill up. The new engines were in a cardboard box (with, I can still remember “Dinna Sidda Opp” or something like that printed on the top.) The box weighed less than 70 pounds. There was a transaxle exchange program too. I liked the 96, especially the Monte Carlo I had as a company car. A carb for each cylinder. Very quick for the day. And great heater! With front snows, the perfect ski car.

  • avatar

    my brother had a sonett III in 1974. Where he got the money for
    it while going to college was beyond me. I imagine he got it to
    impress girls. My dad, a fair mechanic, could not keep it running
    well and used many words not found in Webster’s book while attempting to fix it. There was not, I’m sure, one metric wrench to be found in all of North Dakota at that time.

    I remember him telling about driving off the road near a bridge and
    that his friends merely picked the car up and placed it back on the road.

    Eventually he torched the poor thing in the middle of a highway
    and put it out of it’s misery for the insurance money. It reduced itself to a small puddle of melted fiberglass. Claimed it was a fuel leak that started it.

  • avatar

    My first car(1970) was a ’66 96 w/Monte Carlo engine. It could easily out-accelerate VW’s, go up ice-glazed hills, and had the best steering feel ever!
    When the motor seized up while cruising at 40mph, there was the eery sensation of sudden silence from up front, replaced with the gentle sound of the wind, after the free-wheeling engaged to allow the car to gradually coast to a stop.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    In the late 50s-60s, a dealership up in Hingham , would import Saabs directly and have them shipped to their pier. A buddie’s father had a 95 then a 96. He used them to commute to Boston. Back when I carpooled with some in-laws, my SIL, had a 9000 cd . It was a very roomy old boat and once the turbo spooled up, had some giddyap. Saab was quirky in a good way. But then, I saw the handwriting on the wall, when the “born from jets” ads came out.

    I should seek out your writing, Paul. I am about your age so your subjects resonate with me. I dont think I’ve read a clunker yet. Toast to the Season to you and yours.

  • avatar

    1965. Kenosha to Spokane in SAAB. $15 petrol at gas war prices. 1800 miles. RIP

  • avatar

    Once a legendary car maker, neutered by the General during his badge engineering frenzy, R.I.P. SAAB.

  • avatar

    Such a shame that Victor Mueller wasn’t able to pull off a rescue. He had a real feel for the brand, and might have done up some spectacularly Saab-y Saabs. If only . . . .

    I want to also salute my sister’s old 900 coupe. I’ll never forget the year we loaded a sofa in the back, and drove it over Hood Pass. In December. That car could carry anything. Sporty, practical and like nothing else on the road. It stood for something, unlike so many cars today.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 5 speed 97k mile 1991 9000 Turbo Hatch bought for $2700 in 1999. This was a hellish car to learn to drive a manual transmission on. The clutch difficulty was comparable to my dad’s 84 911. It had massive turbo lag with subsequent torque steer and had numerous things go wrong in the 18 months I had it. The closest SAAB mechanic was 50 miles away, but it never left me stranded.

    I can honestly say that it is my favorite car I have owned. The 200hp put it in a pretty rarefied league for 1991 models. It was so rare that no one knew what it was, yet distinctive enough to be remembered (generally by the headlight wipers, hatchback, and black trim on white paint).

    Although buying it off a lot for $2700, I was able to sell it to someone several states away on Saabnet for $7100 after the 18 months I owned it though it was certainly not all profit as I had sunk at least $3500 into repairs – my reason for selling.

    I firmly believe that despite it’s questionable linage, the 9000 Turbo hatch is a much a SAAB as the 900 that preceded it. I miss it.

  • avatar

    The Saab 93 was my favorite car as a kid. Esp. the GT750.

    I owned a 96 when I was 23, and disliked the amount of body roll, also didn’t like the deep gearing in top gear, or the coarseness of the engine. The freewheeling was cool, though, like the freewheeling at under 30 mph on our overdrive-equipped Studebakers.

    I think I would appreciate the solid virtues of the V4 96 at this time, as flat cornering and high speeds are no longer such a priority for me.

  • avatar

    anyone know where I can get that bumper sticker,I WANT ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar

    I am sincerely sad, but happy to read this eulogy. Well done. My first (car) love was a Saab 900Turbo and it was a dog, but I loved him just the same.. See “To All The Cars I’ve Loved Before” on

  • avatar

    SAAB died in 1985/86, its just that few realized it until recently.

    I have driven SAABs since 1975 starting with a 73 Sonett, then a 59 93, 1961 96, 1972 96 and my last SAAB being a 1982 Turbo 900. With the exception of the last model I could work on just about any aspect of the car myself, with a set of basic Sears Craftsman tools. This was SAABs claim to fame. Not the quirkiness, that only lasted until all your friends had a chance for a closer look, then it was just odd. Not the political statement people think you are making by driving one, (I as far right as you can get), not the aerodynamics or being “green”, really?, ever follow a two stroke for any length of time? SAABs strong point was its reliability and ease of maintenance. If you drove the same SAAB two stroke or V-4 for 4-5 years chances are you were very comfortable under the hood either on the roadside or in you driveway. After 1985 SAAB dropped the inline 4 cylinder, manual transmission basic 2 door 99 coupe from the USA market in favor of the long nose turbo, but what disappeared from the USA market was a basic reliable 2 door car with lots of room under the hood and a bullet proof engine and transmission.

    In its place SAAB gave the buyer a complicated technologically advanced luxury Euro-sport for people that had no idea how to change their own oil or even a flat tire for that matter. The engine bay was completely filled with hoses and wires and sensors that all enteracted with one another and made diagnosing performance problems a nightmare. This group were affluent and were also prone to trade in for other high end makes and had little brand loyalty…..

    An unknown GM exec once said small cars equal small profits, and that may be true and given that SAAB was a limited quantity production company they had to go upscale to try to survive, but that lead to their loss of identity, and the result was predictable 25 yeas ago.

    Here is a tip: If you want a really nice basic reliable SAAB to rebuild and keep, try and snag a 1986 two door notch back with a 5 speed and a 12 valve 2 liter engine, the last of the true SAABs in the USA……

    SAAB is dead, long live SAAB.

  • avatar

    Growing up where I did, you typically had 2 main hand me down cars. You either got the old Volvo station wagon or the SAAB. The first thing that intrigued me about SAAB was the fact that the ignition switch was down by the shifter. A shift from the norm of having your ignition switch by the steering wheel. The shape never exactly made sense but I suppose that was the other part that made them what they were.

    But when I became a mechanic… get those things as far away from me as possible! Seriously, who had the bright idea of turning the engine around so all of the belt driven accessories are facing the firewall? I know that was only for a period of time but, that was about as smart as Pontiac unleashing the Aztec.

    But for the pure reason of them being something I sort of grew up with, I will miss seeing them. Nice work GM! RIP SAAB.

  • avatar

    My family has owned three 99’s, three 900s and a 9000 turbo. I still have one of each, and my girlfriend has an ’88 900. At 337,000 miles, rather than fix a transmission problem I decided to drop a 900 turbo engine in my old 8-valve 900. I’m almost finished.

    My 99 currently has around 330,000 miles on it. The 9000 is the baby at only 230,000, and is currently waiting for a clutch slave cylinder. None of my cars have had engine rebuilds before this engine swap. One of our 99’s did develop a bearing knock after my mother drove it without oil once too often. We drove it for another 70,000 miles before we lost our nerve and disposed of it.

    Saab 99, 900 and 9000 (non-GM) engines and manual transmissions were indestructible. My 900 required regular oil changes plus a steering rack every 100,000 miles. The cars are eminently easy to service and make liberal use of aircraft-quality bolts and standoffs to keep everything easy to reach. Unlike its Alpha cousins, my 9000 has removable fender wells and a hinged frame that swings down, making some types of service ridiculously easy and others simply possible.

    All three models are a lot of fun to drive, and I have vivid happy memories of waxing BMWs coming down through twisty roads in the Rockies near where I live. My malemute-wolf hybrid can stand up in all three of my Saabs, but not in the Honda Accord I mistakenly bought because it was a good deal and I was curious. The Honda is gone now, because the 9000 gets far better gas mileage (35 mpg), holds more passengers and cargo, and is sick fun when I need it to be. I had a tendency to drive under the speed limit in the Honda; I realized quickly it was because I was bored. With my 9000 I have to watch for policement.

    Real (non-GM) Saabs are a fantastic combination of elegant design, attention to detail, practicality and sportiness. They’re a joy to drive and a joy to own. I’ve looked for a replacement, something that would satisfy my taste for engineering elegance, something I’d enjoy as much but newer. Maybe one of the new Fords? I saw a pretty Fusion as I came around a corner a little too fast in my girlfriend’s 900 the other day…

    I sure hope there’s something. RIP, Saab. And thank you.

    • 0 avatar

      Very well said, SAAB’s pinnacle was their 16 valve turbo engine coupled with the 86-87 900 body and 5 speed transmission. Not perfect, but one of the most sucsessful automobiles ever made. Comfort, reliability, durability, drivability and economy all in a handsome package.

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